|A rare picture of VOC.mentalcentral.blogspot.in|
|V. O. Chidambaram Pillai.www.voccollege.ac.in|
|V. O. Chidambaram. yoked oil press at Gandhi Mandapam Guindy.British India en.wikipedia.org|
India has been a free country since 15th August, 1947 and prior to it, it was under the British rule for more than 250 plus years. Indians did not achieve Independence over night and it took 90 tough years for our forefathers to free our country from the British yoke. In the process, thousands of people lost their lives, wealth and families. Scores of patriots under went untold sufferings, insults and humiliations. Many of them died in poverty, but their sacrifices are well etched in the annals of Indian history. The story of patriot V.O. Chidambaram is a poignant one, marking him out as one of the daring freedom fighters who faced odds with firm determination and commitment.
V. O. Chidambaram Pillai is the first Indian to have started the first ever indigenous steam navigation shipping company, operating service between Tuticorin (Thoothukudi) and Colombo. Born on September 5, 1872 Ottapidaram, now in Tuticorin District of Tamil Nadu, he had his education in Tuticorin and took a degree in Law from Madras University. Following his father Olaganathan's foot steps, he enrolled as a lawyer. He was a courageous and bold man and never failed to take up cases from poor people, fighting for justice and fairness. With his grasp of civil and criminal laws and their right application to various cases, besides his convincing argument style, he won many cases and established himself as one of the leading lawyers in his region. Keenly interested in the welfare of the factory workers, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai took active role in trade unions activities in Tamil Nadu (then Madras presidency) and provided a strong leadership. At the same time, being patriotic, as he was, he joined India's struggle for freedom by becoming a member of the Indian National Congress in the year 1905, following the partition of Bengal in the same year. This provided him an opportunity to get to know many great national leaders. He was a disciple of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a well-known freedom fighter from Maharastra and Gandhiji was his close associate. Both Gandhiji and VOC exchanged letters regarding independence and other related matter.
|Potage samp. 5 Sept. 1972,V. O. Chidambaram Pillai -www.delcampe.net|
The Swadeshi movement was gathering momentum in India at that time, it means outright rejection of foreign goods. Leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gandhi wanted to safeguard Indian trade which was strangled by coercive British trade laws. The Indian cottage and village industries were dependent on trade laws. Aurobindo Ghosh, Subramanya Siva and Subramanya Bharathi along with other national leaders championed the cause of Indian traders and their grievances. VOC became a prominent spokesperson for the cause in Madras Presidency (then comprising Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra). He later presided over the Salem District session of the INC and developed closer contacts with eminent people like Rajaji (C.Rajagopla Chari, Governor-general of India after freedom), Salem Vijayaragavachariar, a well known lawyer of Salem and Satayamurthy. In a short period, he developed an obsession for Swadeshi moment. The British dominated in the realm of shipping and charged exorbitant freight rates and fares. Their monopoly in shipping was a headache for mercantile traders.
|A rare picture of VOC and his wife. mentalcentral.blogspot.com|
In early February, 1908 labor problems brewed to the brim at Coral Mill (a part of Madura Coats), Tuticorin over low wages and poor working conditions. Chidambaram and Subramaniya Shiva led the labor strike, Finally, after nine days of strike, the management conceded to the workers' demand. Chidambaram's active involvement irritated the British and after several threats, he and Shiva were arrested on 12 March 1908 in Tirunelveli (then Tinnelveli). Their unjust arrest caused widespread protest in that region and finally turned into riots. Chidambaram was charged under sections 123-A and 153-A of the Indian Penal Code for speaking against the British and giving shelter to Siva, being a lawyer, he refused to take part in the proceedings. He was charged with sedition and a sentence of two life imprisonments (in effect 40 years) was imposed. He was confined in the Central Prison, Coimbatore (from 9 July 1908 to 1 December 1910). The judgment was widely condemned by the media the British Statesmen magazine claiming that it was unjust. Upon appeal, his sentence was slightly reduced by the High court.
Both at Coimbatore and Kannanoor (now in Kerala) jail, he was not treated as political prisoner and was treated as a convict sentenced to life imprisonment. He was forced to hard labor such as breaking hard rocks under scorching sun and and was "yoked (in place of bulls) to the oil press (in Tamil yennai sekku) like an animal and made him to pull it round under the hot sun. Because of harsh treatment, his health gradually deteriorated. By the time he came out of jail, his Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company had already been liquidated in 1911and the ships sold to British companies.
This eminent lawyer, whose father was also a well known and rich lawyer, underwent untold misery and pain in the hands of the British. To add insult to injury, the government refused to give him license to practice as a lawyer. Once a rich lawyer of repute, now penniless and almost broke, Chidambaram was compelled to do various odd jobs. At last the British Judge at Coimbatore restored his license to practice as a lawyer. But Chidambaram continued to live in poverty till the end of his life. He died on 18 November 1936 Thoothukudi, British India. He sacrificed everything for the sake of freeing India from the British rule.
During their long stay in India, the British through their oppressive rule killed thousands of people, including many rulers and noble people. They earned a bundle of dough in India and along with it a bigger bundle of sins and Indian people's curses.